A UN Independent Expert, given the responsibility to provide protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), has been asked to put together a report for the United Nations on two seemingly irreconcilable spheres: one of freedom to exercise religious beliefs and one of freedom from discrimination based on SOGI.
Henceforth, this Independent Expert has issued a request for input from what appears to be ‘anyone.’ Despite that friendly euphemism, the truth of the matter is, this Independent Expert (Mr. Victor Madrigal-Borloz to be exact) already knows who he wants to hear from. As he puts it, “The IE SOGI’s thematic report aims to introduce voices from LGBT-inclusive belief systems, indigenous communities, and LGBT+ communities of faith as key stakeholders.”
What this Independent Expert wants to hear is an echoing chamber; one that will repeat back to him what he already believes, but just louder. Mr. Madrigal-Borloz wishes to make his job infinitely easier, and who can blame him?
Theoretically, what he is hoping to discover is a bridge between the two spheres of religion and SOGI, one that is easy to traverse and peaceful for everyone. Despite this, one can tell from reading this “call for input” that he does not believe it is possible. The bridge doesn’t exist and therefore the winner should take all (hint, the LGBT community is the winner).
And truth be told, that is how the majority of policies are being written today. They are set up in such a way that it’s clear the authors feel the battle can’t be fought without too many causalities and therefore it would be easier to silently declare a winner regardless of merit. Ryan T. Anderson, author and philosopher, likened this type of conquest as, “SOGI policies are being used as swords to “punish the wicked”, as the biggest financial backer of SOGIs, Tim Gill, has put it.” Anderson then poses a great goal for any aspiring legislator: “policies ought to be shields, not swords.”
Example of a “sword”
Barronelle Stutzman was a floral artist from Washington when her life was rapidly flipped upside down in the year 2013. After being approached by a longtime friend of hers, whom she had serviced many times before through unique bouquets, Mrs. Stutzman was forced to tell this friend “no” for the first time ever in their friendship. Robert Ingersoll had come to Mrs. Stutzman on March 1, 2013, with the hope of having her arrange some flowers in celebration of his same-sex marriage. She told him no, on the basis that it went against her religious beliefs, and instead directed him to other florists that could help him. What seemed like a disagreement that ended with a hug between the two, turned into quite a storm.
After nearly a decade of fighting non-discrimination lawsuits, Mrs. Stutzman finally put an end to all the conflict through a settlement with Robert Ingersoll in November 2021. In her closing statement about the last years of turmoil and contention, she wrote,
“If you’ve prayed for me, thank you. If you’ve hated me, well … I’ve prayed for you. And as my case closes, I pray that God will give you the freedom of your conscience, protect your right to make your own choices, whatever they may be, and give us all grace to be patient, forgiving, and respectful of each other. And finally, I wish Rob the very best.”
These are not the words of a hateful bigot determined to hurt a minority group. These are the words of a conscientious objector, attempting to live her beliefs out by utilizing the very tools the United States constitution afforded her. And now, at the age of 77, she hands off her business to family members, not ending on the note I’m sure she would have preferred.
This is just one case amongst many where religious objectors are being forced to choose between their livelihood or their faith. Our world has progressed enough to know that that is no kind of choice to be forced to make.
What kind of information is this Independent Expert requesting?
Mr. Victor Madrigal-Borloz provided eleven questions for the public to answer. Here are a sample few.
- What are the actual or perceived points of tension (if any) between the right to manifest one’s freedom of religion or belief, and freedom from violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity? Are there any areas in which they are mutually exclusive?
- Are there any ways in which the right to freedom of religion or belief, and freedom from violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity are mutually reinforcing?
- What are the key trends or significant instances of discriminatory or abusive practices by individual providers of goods or services in the public sphere against LGBT+ and gender-diverse persons that rely on religious narratives?
- What role (if any) has the concept of conscientious objection played in limiting the full enjoyment of the right to freedom from violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity?
What is interesting to note is that each of these questions has subtly painted a victim and a villain. Not once is the question asked: In what way has the religious community seen their rights diminished and insulted by the aggressive forces of LGBT advocates searching for acceptance of their lifestyle? As an answer for that, I would give the case of Barronelle Stutzman. The people who fight for their religious freedom to honor marriage by turning away celebratory same-sex partners are not responding because of hatred for a minority group.
Andrew Koppelman, a professor and advocate for the LGBT community wrote, “Hardly any of these cases have occurred: a handful in a country of 300 million people. In all of them, the people who objected to the law were asked directly to facilitate same-sex relationships by providing wedding, adoption, or artificial insemination services, counseling, or rental of bedrooms. There have been no claims of a right to simply refuse to deal with gay people.”
The faces of “discrimination”
Coming back to Ryan T. Anderson, he wrote a chapter in the book, “Religious Freedom, LGBT Rights, and the Prospects for Common Ground” and he provides a very interesting perspective. To surmise, there are two main types of discrimination: Invidious discrimination and relevant distinctions.
Invidious discrimination is when a variable that has nothing to do with the situation at hand, is taken into account. For his example, Anderson uses racially segregated water fountains. The color of a person has nothing to do with what water fountain he or she should be allowed to drink out of, and yet that was the determining factor for the black community and where they could receive water.
Relevant distinctions are the flip side to invidious discrimination, as it is when relevant factors are taken into account. Anderson gives sex-specific intimate facilities as his example. We take the variable of male and female, and we separate them when it comes to changing clothes or using the restroom. This is a relevant distinction to make as it lends the needed privacy for the two sexes.
Had Mrs. Stutzman refused all service to the homosexual community, simply because of their orientation and identity, she would have been playing into invidious discrimination. But in reality, what she states happened was, “So, as gently as I could, I recommended some other floral artists whom I knew would do a great job for Rob. My decision was not intended to hurt him, but to honor my sincere and deepest beliefs.” She was refusing to support same-sex marriage, regardless of the sexual orientation of the person asking for the flowers. What those flowers are being used for is a relevant distinction to make.
Anderson makes a very important point. He states, “SOGI nondiscrimination policies are used to impose sexual orthodoxy. They are used to force Catholic schools to employ people who undermine their sexual values and evangelical bakers to lend their artistic talents to messages about marriage with which they disagree. SOGI laws are intended to ‘punish’ people of good will who simply seek the freedom to lead their lives in accordance with their beliefs about human sexuality. Religious nondiscrimination laws are not used to punish those the majority considers wrong on religions – just the opposite; these protections are equally available to all religions, including minority faiths.” The importance of this passage cannot be emphasized enough.
The Importance of Religious Freedom to a Society
George Washington, in his Farewell Address to Congress in 1796 stressed the importance of religion in a nation when he said that religion and morality were, “great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens… National morality [could not exist] in exclusion of religious principle… Virtue or morality [as the products of religion] were a necessary spring of popular government.”
Religious freedoms benefit us all. We need solutions that better bridge the gap between the LGBT community and the religious community, solutions that are more than just being “merely civil” to each other, but proposing alternative policies that serve everyone.. We just need to make sure we are creating “shields and not swords” in our quest for “rights.”
What can I do to support Religious Freedom?
Please write to Mr. Victor Madrigal-Borloz and remind him of some core values and the importance of religious freedom. (Everyone is welcome to submit comment and it doesn’t matter the length of the submission.)
In their Universal Declaration, Article 18, the UN pledged, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
Following Article 18, Article 19 reads, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” (Scroll to the bottom of this article for additional UN consensus language regarding religious freedom.)
Write and remind him of these commitments. Remind him that there are many out there who hold their religious freedoms to be one of their most sacred freedoms. Let’s not make his job any easier and let us be louder than his echo chamber.
The deadline to do so is Sunday, January 15, 2023 and you can follow this link to find more information.
United Nations Consensus Language from Major UN Treaties & Documents
*Bolded emphasis added by UFI
Freedom of religion
“fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion” (U.N. Charter, Article 1 paragraph 3; U.N. Charter, Article 13 paragraph 1b; U.N. Charter, Article 76 paragraph c)
“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” (Universal Declaration, Article 2)
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” (Universal Declaration, Article 18)
“without discrimination of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status” (ICESCR, Article 2-2)
“rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status” (ICCPR, Article 2-1)
“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice . . . .” (ICCPR, Article 18-1)
“No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.” (ICCPR, Article 18-2)
“In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right . . . to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.” (ICCPR, Article 27)
“States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” (CRC, Article 14)
“recognizing that every individual has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, expression and religion” (Vienna, 22)
“Religion, spirituality and belief play a central role in the lives of millions of women and men, in the way they live and in the aspirations they have for the future. The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is inalienable and must be universally enjoyed.” (Beijing, 24)
Recognizing the importance of building human solidarity, we urge the promotion of dialogue and cooperation among the world’s civilizations and peoples, irrespective of race, disabilities, religion, language, culture or tradition. (Earth Summit +10, 17)
“…consistent with national laws and cultural and religious values…” (Earth Summit +10, 54)
“By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status” (2030 Agenda, target 10.2)
Religious and ethical values
“with respect for cultural, religious and social aspects, in keeping with freedom, dignity and personally held values and taking into account ethical and cultural considerations” (Agenda 21, 6.3)
“with full respect for the various religious and ethical values, cultural backgrounds and philosophical convictions of its people” (ICPD, 1.11)
“The Programme of Action will require the establishment of common ground, with full respect for the various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds.” (ICPD, 1.15)
“with full respect for the various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds of each country’s people” (ICPD, 14.3-f; ICPD, 15.13)
“We heads of State and Government are committed to a political, economic, ethical and spiritual vision for social development that is based on . . . full respect for the various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds of people.” (Social Summit Declaration, 25)
“with full respect for the various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds of its people” (Social Summit, 3)
“in conformity with all human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the significance of and full respect for various religious and ethical values, cultural backgrounds and philosophical convictions of individuals and their communities” (Beijing, 9)
“Implementation of the Habitat Agenda, . . . with full respect for various religious and ethical values, cultural backgrounds, and philosophical convictions of individuals and their communities . . . .” (Habitat, 24)
“with full respect for the various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds of its people” (Cairo +5, 5)
“that it fully respects various religions, ethical values and cultural backgrounds of each country’s people” (Cairo +5, 86)
“should take into account the diverse economic, social and environmental conditions in each country, with full respect for the various religious and ethical values, cultural backgrounds and philosophical convictions of its people” (Social Summit +5, III-2)
“markets which function efficiently within a framework of ethical values” (Social Summit +5, III-4)
“full respect for various religious and ethical values, cultural backgrounds and philosophical convictions of individuals and their communities” (Beijing +5, 3)
“…consistent with national laws, religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds of the people and in conformity with all human rights and fundamental freedoms.” (Children Summit +10: 37, 59)
Religious beliefs of parents
“The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, which conform to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the State and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.” (ICESCR, Article 13-3)
“The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.” (ICCPR, Article 18-4)
“States Parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable, legal guardians, to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child.” (CRC, Article 14-2)
“With due respect for the rights, duties and responsibilities of parents and . . . respecting their cultural values and religious beliefs, ensure that adolescents, both in and out of school, receive the necessary information, including information on prevention, education, counselling and health services to enable them to make responsible and informed choices and decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive health needs . . . .” (Cairo +5, 73-e)